IMPRS Student Retreat at Eifel National Park 4 – 6 November 2019

· by Ezgi Bulca

IMPRS BB PhD students enjoyed a 3-day retreat in the middle of the Eifel National Park

Our PhD students in Bonn, Germany had a wonderful time at the 3-day IMPRS Student Retreat at Vogelsang IP, in the middle of the Eifel National Park. The park spans 110 square kilometers and hosts a variety of wildlife. It also houses the historical place Vogelsang IP which served as an “Ordensburg” during the National Socialism period in Germany, and later as military training grounds for the Belgian army. Since 2006, Vogelsang IP (International Place) serves as a place for “tolerance, diversity and peaceful coexistence”. Our students joined a guided tour at the retreat where they learned about the history of the premises.

Can you explain your PhD project in 60 seconds?

After a talk about the future plans of IMPRS BB by our coordinator Ezgi Bulca, the retreat kicked off with “elevator pitches” from the PhD students. An elevator pitch is a concept where you imagine explaining a topic (in this case, what students are working on) in a short time that an elevator ride would take. The students were allowed 60 seconds and maximum 1 slide (or drawing) to simply explain what they were working on and ignite the audience’s excitation for their topic.

Together with our coordinator, students then discussed what they liked about individual pitches, and how they could be improved. This proved to be good practice for taking a step back and explaining complex concepts in simple ways.

Second and third-year PhD students gave more extensive presentations about their projects which were followed by fruitful discussions about their data.

Astronomy Workshop “Stars without Boundaries”

In 2014, The Eifel National Park was certified as the first International Dark Sky Park in Germany by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA). Another highlight of the retreat was the astronomy workshop “Stars without Borders” organized by Dr. Harald Bardenhagen at the Vogelsang observatory. Our students had the chance to identify constellations, observe Venus, and learn about how light pollution affects human health. We then discussed how light pollution affects the brain and regular sleep cycle.

Mental Health in Academia

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, our coordinator gave a statistics-based presentation on mental health in academia. A recent survey of Max Planck Society PhD students conducted by PhDnet showed that 51% of doctoral researchers experienced psychological distress, which is almost twice as much likely than employed matched controls. We then discussed possible contributing factors such as problems with the supervisor, long working hours, uncertainty about future job prospects, and moving to a new country where you are away from your support network.

We learned about types of help available through the Max Planck Society, caesar, and the University of Bonn. Explaining how the system works in Germany to book an appointment with a psychotherapist was helpful for Germans and non-Germans alike.

Life after PhD

On the last day, our coordinator introduced possible career paths after obtaining a PhD in neuroscience. We believe it is very important to prepare IMPRS PhD students for a career not only in science and research but also in any other sector where analytical thinking is sought after.